Weekend in Monferrat, cradled by the hills
Looking for suggestions for a weekend in Monferrat? The Langhe is a sacred area for lovers of wine and hillside landscapes, but only the most curious stop at Monferrat, which is just as charming and the cradle of excellent wines. According to legend, it was Aleramo, ancestor of the Marquises of Montferrat, who established the borders of the area by riding for three days nonstop. But not having the tools he needed to shoe his steed, he used a brick instead, mòn in the Piedmontese dialect. The area has gone by this name ever since, thanks to his mòn-ferrà.
Where to begin
It is difficult to take in this area with just one glance; it is divided up from the north into Basso Monferrato (Lower Monferrat), Monferrato Astigiano and Alto Monferrato (Upper Monferrat). There is a strategic point from where you can see most of the areas of the provinces of Asti and Alessandria: the Torre dei Contini, the old surveillance tower that can be reached from Canelli and going up towards the Santa Libera district. From there you can follow the signs and walk through the vineyards. From the top of the tower there is a 360° view. The unmistakeable silhouette of the Monviso mountain marks the horizon on clear days and then drops down suddenly towards the plain, then you see the gentle hills of Monferrat right up to the sharper Langhe hills, and finally to the south the Apennines from which you expect “the sea to suddenly appear around the bend”, like in the song by Fossati. The Monferrat hills are scattered with Romanesque churches and covered with vineyards, interrupted by villages perched on the hilltops, deserving a tourist success that has not taken off yet, but this is precisely what makes Monferrat an authentic place to discover.
Weekend in Monferrat for wine lovers. Traditional method or Barbera?
Due to its important landscape and history, Monferrat gained UNESCO recognition in 2014. In the ‘underground cathedrals’ of Canelli, in the Asti area, kilometres of maze-like cellars, where the best sparkling wines of the region slowly age, Carlo Gancia made the history of Italian wine. At Contratto, the cellar has been dug out of tuff and the tunnels go up to 30 metres underground, where millions of bottles of Traditional Method sparkling wine are resting. Tours and tastings are available by booking. A few hundred metres away, following the road to Alba, you come to Coppo, another historic and prestigious winery, where, in addition to sparkling wines, full-bodied reds are made from the main grape variety in Monferrat: Barbera. Enthusiasts of this variety can’t miss a visit and tasting at Braida in Rocchetta Tanaro. Here, Giacomo Bologna’s smile (the founder of the winery) is still impressed on the wines: Bricco dell’Uccellone, Bricco della Bigotta, Montebruna, Ai Suma and the semi-sparkling Monella. You can also dine here.
Hospitality in the winery, among Freisa and Moscato wines
After Asti and going towards Casale Monferrato, a stop at Grazzano Badoglio is a must, where the Tenuta Santa Caterina offers not only tours and tastings in the cellar, but also the possibility to stay the night in luxury accommodation. Grignolino, Barbera and Freisa are the local grape varieties, but here you can find a wine that goes outside the boundaries fixed by Aleramo: Silente delle Marne is made from 100% Chardonnay. It is important to match a local sweet wine with a slice of hazelnut cake served with warm zabaglione cream: Moscato. There are two wineries to visit: Scagliola and its Volo di Farfalle, light and delicate like its name (‘flight of the butterflies’), but straying outside of the Langa Astigiana area, to Forteto della Luja, you can taste a real gem linked to one of the smallest Italian DOCs: Loazzolo, a moscato dried-grape wine. The Scaglione family warmly welcomes guests for tours and tastings in the winery immersed in a WWF oasis.
The right places
Where to eat:
Doc, Altavilla Monferrato (0142-926179): bar-trattoria with honest prices and high quality, select raw materials and family run. Like being at home.
I Bologna, Rocchetta Tanaro (www.trattoriaibologna.it): home-cooked haute cuisine. By booking you can taste some typical dishes from the Piedmontese cuisine, such as boiled meat or bagna cauda. An experience.
La casa nel bosco, Cassinasco (www.casanelbosco.com): Gianni and Mina are an institution and a guarantee, the raw materials of their dishes come from the vegetable garden and fruit orchard of the house, Gianni recommends the wine and never lets you down.
Tambass, Rocca d’Arazzo (www.tambassteatrocucina.it): Tambass is ‘tamburello’, a Piedmontese game. A mix of theatre and cuisine, the waiters are actually actors who play their part between one course and another.
Tantì, Nizza Monferrato (www.ristorantinotanti.it): farinata made from chick peas is a typical dish from Monferrat and Tantì was a historic seller of this culinary delight, which has remained unchanged today in its simplicity. Also to take away.
Where to sleep:
Agriturismo Cinque Camini, San Mazano Oliveto (www.cinquecamini.it)
La casa in collina, Canelli (www.casaincollina.com)
Relais Tenuta Santa Caterina, Grazzano Badoglio (www.tenuta-santa-caterina.it/relais/)
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